The Columbus Crew have many important decisions to make this offseason. The club has two pending free agents (Derrick Etienne Jr. and Marlon Hairston), plus seven players eligible for free agency that they have club options for (which I'll discuss in an upcoming article) according to the MLS Players Association's list of free agent eligible players. Emerging forward Derrick Etienne Jr. and defender Marlon Hairston are out of contract at year's end and thus will be free agents this offseason.
Seven FA eligible players with club options is the most of any team in the league. Nine total players eligible for free agency (out of contract players and players with club options) is also the most in the league. Meaning it will be a busy offseason for the Crew (who currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference).
To be eligible for MLS free agency, a player must be at least 24 years old and have at least five years of experience in the league. Plus be out of contract (or have their club option declined).
Derrick Etienne, a 25-year old forward, is likely due for a raise as he heads into free agency. Etienne is making just $175,000 this year (according to the MLSPA salary guide), which isn't much for what he has given the Crew this season. Etienne is currently forming a dangerous tandem up top with recently signed Cucho for Columbus. The Crew will likely have to figure things out on a new deal for Etienne, but I think the club will want to keep him around after his breakout season this year.
This season, Etienne has scored five goals and has added five assists. He is also completing 79.8% of his passes and has made 15 key passes. He has also played 47 accurate long balls. These stats have come through 20 appearances this season for Etienne, with 15 of them being starts (totaling 1,391 minutes). His five goals is currently tied for the team lead.
To give context on Etienne's breakout. Prior to this season, he had scored just eight goals with 11 assists across 120 matches in 5+ seasons in MLS. He is turning into a legit goal-scoring threat this season however.
Etienne joined the Crew prior to the 2020 season. He has been having arguably the best season of his career this year. The breakout season Etienne is enjoying this season is why he is likely due for such a raise at year's end. Other team's might come calling for Etienne, attempting to pull him away from Columbus for more money, but I think the Crew will attempt to bring him back.
Marlon Hairston, a 28-year old defender, has struggled getting into the lineup this season for the Crew. Part of the reason is that Hairston is stuck behind the likes of Steven Moreira at right-back.
At this point, Hairston has been a dependable backup throughout his recent MLS career (although injuries have also hindered him). Hairston joined Columbus as a free agent prior to the 2021 season.
This season, Hairston has appeared in just two matches, with one start. He has yet to score or pick up an assist in 149 minutes on the year. He is completing 92.3% of his passes, however.
Hairston has a cap hit of $175,000 this season, which isn't much. He does seem to be a bit of a fan favorite and seemingly provides a good presence in the locker room. Hairston probably wouldn't be expensive to re-sign and it wouldn't surprise me if the Crew attempt to bring him back as a backup option. However, the Crew could elect to let him move on in free agency.
Hairston had a lot of hype five or six years ago when he was at Colorado. That hype has faded some, but it's possible that a team elsewhere in the league takes a flyer on him attempting to revitalize his career.
Columbus will have a lot of decisions to make this offseason with a league-leading nine players free agent eligible, with several of them being major contributors (which will also be further expounded upon in the upcoming piece on the players with club options). However, I think Columbus will look to bring back most of the key ones in this group, and hope that they can continue to pair with the Crew's Designated Player's of Cucho, Lucas Zelarayan, and Darlington Nagbe next season.
The Crew are hot right now in MLS play as they look to push towards the playoffs after a rough start to the season. How the Crew play from here could determine their offseason direction.
If I had to to make a prediction, I would say that Etienne is re-signed (for more money) on a multi-year deal and that Hairston signs elsewhere where he can have a better opportunity for playing time.